Joan of Arcadia is simply divine

Nov. 12, 2003, midnight | By Katherine Zhang | 20 years, 7 months ago

CBS kicked off the fall season with a thrilling new drama, Joan of Arcadia. There are no crazy teenagers, no superheroes, no complicated love triangles and no paranormal activities. There is only Joan Girardi, her family, some friends and God, and yet, Joan of Arcadia contains immeasurable amounts of drama, intrigue, and innovation.

Amber Tamblyn stars as Joan, the seemingly average teenager with the seemingly average family. Except Joan is not all that ordinary. She talks to God. Or rather, God talks to her. He takes on human form (and never the same human twice), comes to Arcadia and gives Joan what she classifies as " annoying, bogus assignments:" take AP Chemistry, learn to play chess, build a boat, have a yard sale… The list continues.

For someone never played by the same person, God has a very strong and definite personality. Whether appearing to Joan as a serious naval officer or a perky flight attendant, God is always steadfast and wise but at the same time witty and carefree. It's fun to watch the comments, some deep and philosophical, others amusing and comical, come from different characters that are all supposed to be God. There is the grandmotherly deliverywoman who cheerfully tells Joan not to cut history class as she was planning to, the no-nonsense, solemn man who uses chess to teach Joan about the game of life, and even the red-haired little girl, who, because she is actually God, talks like she is eight-going-on-eighty. God's many personalities give an amusing and fresh sense of surprise to the show.

Amber Tamblyn, too, does a wonderful job portraying Joan. She has that gentle, slightly confused look that tells the viewer she is in that difficult, hurtful stage of growing up called the teenage years. And despite resolutely voicing her objections to God's assignments, she carries them out, and in the process, learns important lessons about herself, life and the people close to her. Joan is the girl that teenage viewers can identify with. She faces peer pressure at school, gets in the occasional argument with her parents, and learns the hard way about life and growing up. Her struggles are the struggles of any teen, and the empathy that the viewer feels toward her instantly establishes a connection that makes Joan Girardi an everyday heroine and Joan of Arcadia the most welcomed show of the season.

Meanwhile, oblivious to their daughter's communications with God, the rest of the Girardis deal with their own problems. Joan's father, Will (Joe Mantegna), is busy with his stressful job as the chief of police at the Arcadia Police Department, and her older brother, Kevin (Jason Ritter), has just come to terms with becoming paralyzed in a car accident. Joan's other brother, Luke (Michael Welch), hangs around as the family geek, while her mother, Helen (Mary Steenburgen) has her hands full worrying about the well-being of her children and supporting her husband.

It's clear that far from being the perfect family, the Girardis have their own problems and qualms, yet that doesn't stop them from being there for each other. There was Helen's concern about Joan's "enthusiasm" as she excitedly built the boat, Will's struggles in helping Kevin find himself after the accident, and Joan's hesitant but caring inquiry to whether her dad needs help when he faced his difficult responsibilities to the police department and the public. Through every ordeal, the Girardis are there to help and support each other. There is no unnecessary melodrama created by outrageous skeletons in the closet or nasty sibling rivalries. The drama comes from the ordeals the family goes through and the challenges they face. It is enhanced by the sweet, pleasant feeling of trust and togetherness.

With lovable characters and the warm feeling of family, Joan of Arcadia can't go wrong. Creator Barbara Hall's new drama is simply the next masterpiece.

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Katherine Zhang. Katherine Zhang likes French baguettes, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, bookmarks, fresh boxes of rosin, Brad Meltzer novels, and of course, "JAG." In her free time, Katherine enjoys knitting, playing the violin, and reading - especially legal thrillers and books about people in faraway places and long-ago times. … More »

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